Story by Fred Rudofsky
“Take the elevator down one floor. Hurry, the meet and greet has already begun!” the merchandise vendor tells me just after I have purchased a gatefold copy of Eric Burdon’s new LP, ‘Til Your River Runs Dry. So much for thinking there will be time to grab a cold beverage. I sprint to the nearest elevator seconds before its doors close.
One flight down, I exit to see approximately 20 fans queued up within two velvet ropes. Many are clutching Burdon’s recent CD. Some have old vinyl albums by the Animals; one appears to have dug up a dog-eared paperback copy of “The Rolling Stone Guide to Music.” All anticipate an autograph and a photo opportunity with Eric Burdon, who is dressed in black from head to toe. A large peace sign adorns his t-shirt, and he is wearing sunglasses tonight. A vintage bottle of red wine is set at the table to his left, and his glass appears half full.
Initially, a few get their items signed, and yet things quickly get weird. Event organizers walk down the line, telling those of us who are waiting that there will be absolutely no autographs. Their tone is terse, yet absurdly so. They say something about the headlining set being on a time constraint; meanwhile, Burdon accepts a Sharpie pen, signs another album, poses for a photo. He is gregarious and smiling – he is in no hurry. The event staff reiterates the “no autographs” directive with the finesse of Dean Wormer admonishing the hapless pledges in “Animal House.”
A few in front of me, who also paid the extra dinero to attend this meet and greet, grumble about this dubious policy in motion. No “Serenity now!” mantra will ease their sense of disappointment, and I cannot blame them. I am clutching an album that I, too, hope to get autographed. Why would one more 10-second signature be detrimental to the success of a rock and roll show? Do I dare disturb the evening’s schematic, do I dare ask for an autograph?
(I acquiesce and will refrain from asking for an autograph – “Why didn’t I?” I think briefly to myself 15 minutes later when Burdon’s band takes the stage.)
Finally, I meet the legendary singer I first heard over 30 years ago on Lin Brehmer’s late night slot on WQBK-FM.
“Great to meet you, Eric. I’m Fred; I’ve enjoyed your music for a long time,” I say to Burdon as we shake hands.
“Thanks, Fred. Hey, now that was The Man!” he replies like he is about to burst into a blues song, pointing at the “You Don’t Know Diddley!” t-shirt I’m wearing.
We laugh in agreement, and then briefly chat.
“Eric, I saw Bo Diddley play just outside The Egg several years ago in a blues festival. My sister and I got to chat with him after the show.”
“No kidding!” Impressed and intrigued, Burdon also conveys an envious look, even through his dark sunglasses. I surmise and later confirm that Burdon saw Diddley play some shows, but never got the chance to meet him.
“Anyway, Bo signed a copy of his Have Guitar, Will Travel album for me. He told us that the front cover, which featured him riding a motor scooter, was shot in NYC.”
“Great, great album!!!,” he exclaims. A pretty woman – Burdon’s wife, perhaps – graciously offers to take our photo with my disposable camera. He and I stand next to each other. We’re the same height.
“Eric, when my sister told Bo that she lived and worked in the city, he told her: ‘New York City, young lady, is the Den of Iniquity!'”
Grinning, Burdon puts his right arm around my shoulder; without missing a Bo Diddley beat, he cracks in that indelibly gruff voice, “Fucking right, it is!” We laugh at least a half minute, and then say goodbye.
To think that some only got an autograph.